Reno vs. Sirico: A Debate on Economic Justice

I rarely link to videos, much less watch them myself.  But this one I actually did.  It contains a debate between two scholars on economic justice, both of them, interestingly enough, identified as ‘conservative’.  They are Rusty Reno, editor of First Things magazine, and Robert Sirico, ordained priest and head of the social justice think tank Acton Institute.  They are both Roman Catholic, and the debate was hosted by a Classical Protestant college, King’s College, NYC.  I remember when, back in 1960, the idea of a Classical Protestant college sponsoring a debate between two Catholic scholars could not even be imagined!  [Yes.  I’m of a certain age.]  Plus, my organization has a relationship with King’s College NYC and sponsors projects there.  I think I did doze off during parts of it, not because it was boring, but because extended oral discourse has that effect on me.  I prefer reading text to watching ‘podcasts’.  Maybe I’m old fashioned.

I expected at first to cheer for Reno, because I so want to think of myself as a ‘fiscal moderate’ and not a ‘fiscal conservative’.  But Sirico acquitted himself better than I might have expected.  Reno favored restricting free trade [they seemed to stay away from immigration!] and favored restrictions on the huge international corporations that are dominating world economic life – including the huge tech corporations like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.  Sirico had a higher view of the free market, and claimed that regulations often benefited the corporations.  He could have made his point even better.  Regulation of business is like a fly swatter.  The effect of a fly swatter on the behind of a human is a slight sting.  The effect of a fly swatter on the behind of a fly is that the fly dies.  Larger and more established businesses, which can afford to meet the cost burden of regulation, find it a protection against upstarts and small entrepreneurs, who cannot afford the burden of strict compliance.  I thought it interesting that Sirico talked about his experience as a pastor in a local church in Grand Rapids, which he is.  But most of his points about that experience seemed to have to do with religious liberty for nonprofits.  Neither of them talked about affordable housing, a favorite topic here at Blue Kennel, but the impact of regulations is as severe in the housing business, or worse; for which see Orange County Housing Authority, Abundant Housing LA,, Market Urbanism Report, and many others.

In the end I go back to the statements of Francis Fukuyama [no libertarian!] in his political order books:  all governments, regardless of their form, tend to drift in the direction of ‘patrimonialism’ or ‘crony capitalism’ over time.  Retarding that process is the central problem of political theory.  But in the complete absence of government, you would eventually get the same ‘patrimonialism’, but with a lot more blood being shed along the way.

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